Emma Williams goes big with Eddie Izzard – acting and writing - multitasking gone huge
When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize?
I actually entered the first year of CWIP after hearing about it via Twitter. I was pregnant and just beginning my writing journey, and took a punt with a version of the book which was VERY different to the one longlisted this year (and VERY unready for comp submission). Obviously, I didn’t get anywhere but I loved having a whole new pile of books to read after the published longlist came out!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I’m an actress and singer, which means I’ve done a million jobs on the side and I’ve always been drawn to unusual characters. Interestingly I didn’t write anything into AGNES GRACE that I could play, though I would love to delve into stage and screen writing too. I write a lot as a kid (well, plagiarised) but only properly picked writing back up in my 30s with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). My husband, James later encouraged me to take the Curtis Brown writing courses — probably so I’d have someone else to witter on about writing to.
Talk to me about teenage angst: Was it manifested in poetry or diary form?
For me it always came out in song. I was always singing to myself as a kid, and I wrote a LOT of lyrics and poems. Even in my most emotional moments my feelings still tend to come out as poetry, such as Cry, a spoken word piece I wrote about my experience of parenting in a pandemic. I kept a diary for a few years in my 20s. I think it’s amazing way of helping your mental health — of processing what’s happening in your life — but I wouldn’t want anyone to read them though!
Can you describe what your novel, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AGNES GRACE, is about in two sentences?
Should the end of life mean the end of living? Agnes and her grandson, Tom, are on a voyage of self-discovery to recapture her youth, and corrupt his, before time runs out for them both.
Did you set out to write a funny book?
Not at all, but I’m glad I did! My humour is generally quite dark and self-deprecating but somehow Agnes brought a new edge to that. I like the fact that her age brings a certain degree of straight-talking that younger characters couldn’t get away with. She uncompromising in her forthrightness.
How did you tap into Agnes’ character?
I worked in a nursing home as a care assistant between acting jobs and Agnes is an amalgamation of several people I met there, as well as drawing from the fierce and fabulous Northern women who raised me. I’m an old soul at heart and love a jigsaw or a bit of cross-stitch, so that helps, although getting into her physicality was harder.
What inspired you to write a multi-generational book?
I was working on Half A Sixpence in the West End when I started AGNES on a Curtis Brown course. We four ‘older’ females in the cast were sharing a dressing room — The Palais de V.A.J.E. (Vivien, Annie, Jane and Emma) — and it shone a light on the increasing invisibility of women as they age. We were 33, 53, 60 and 63 at the time! It just felt right to try and tackle something that looked at older female voices, our futures. The first draft also featured a narrative from Agnes’s daughter, but it’s since been cut in re-edits. I think it will be something I pick back up in a secondary novel or sequel though, there’s definitely more to explore in Agnes and Kathryn’s relationship.
Who do you enjoy reading?
Anyone and everyone. I’m a bit of a bookworm. This year has been one for debuts and diverse voices, and books from the #VWG, the Virtual Writing Group on Twitter, which I’m a member of. I loved Fíona Scarlett’s BOY’S DON’T CRY and Neema Shah’s excellent KOLOLO HILL, and I’m currently reading Bernardine Evaristo’s GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER and COW GIRL by CWIP winner Kirsty Eyre. I get far less time to read now I have my daughter. (Izzy is 21 months old) but I do an exceptional performance of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, if I do say so myself.
What’s your favourite type of humour?
Anything from the observational to the absurdist. The last comedians I saw live were Jason Manford, Sarah Millican and Desiree Burch who made me laugh like a drain. Humour that’s based in truth, and brutal truth at that, is just so engaging to me. If I need a good pick me up then a little bit of Victoria Wood on the old YouTube will always do the trick. God, that woman was astonishing.
What’s your most cringe moment in the last five years if you’d care to share for our delight?
Oh god. A few years ago I was nominated for an acting award which, it turned out on the night, was being presented by Eddie Izzard. Now I’m a huge fan and convinced myself that was because I’d won. I hadn’t. Gutted at missing my chance to shake her hand, when I saw her across the crowded after party I went bounding over like a Labrador puppy in an oversized evening gown. I fangirled hard for a few minutes without explanation, then yelped ‘I run marathons too!’ before my husband appeared to rescue me. Or rather, Eddie. Eddie was unfailing polite, but I was mortified afterwards at how uncool I was. This geek has no chill.
Is there a funny line, scene or book that you wish you’d written?
Anything by Victoria Wood, frankly, but especially Acorn Antiques — including the musical version. Dame Julie Walters singing Macaroons is utter genius. Years ago I got to audition for the show and I made Victoria Wood laugh. I didn’t get the job, but I made her laugh and I will carry that moment always.
Where does your writing magic happen, and can you tell us about your writing routine?
Ha! Magic might be the operative word. Since having my daughter, pulling writing time out of thin air has been something of a trick. I will squirrel away moments whenever I get chance — sometimes it’s a relaxed afternoon in a coffee shop with my computer whilst she’s at nursery, often it’s a voicenote on my phone at 3am or a scribble in a notebook during a toddler nap — whenever and wherever as the world opens back up and I can get back to some semblance of schedule. I had to sell my writing desk during the pandemic to make play space for Izzy - I dream of having my own little shed one day so I can nest and nurture (hopefully) my next books.
The space my writing desk used to occupy…
Helen Lederer ‘Your cringe moment – is our pleasure thank you for sharing - your line ‘I run marathons too’ while being removed from fan Girling has made my day. Love the wit in all of this!
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